Sunday, December 29, 2013

Still thousands without power

Having our own furnace break down on the Sunday before Christmas, and anxiously awaiting the repairman at midnight as the temperature in the house dropped lower and lower, I could only imagine how much worse it would have been to be freezing in the dark for days on end.
So I have been very closely following the blackout story in Toronto over the last week.  What a terrible Christmas it has been for so many people.
And the state of Toronto politics didn't help.
Municipal leadership matters.  It will likely never be possible to precisely measure how badly the lack of municipal leadership in Toronto affected the planning and implementation of power restoration.  But both Toronto Hydro and the Province of Ontario would have had their own priorities during the crisis, and while they did their best, they could not focus only on Toronto, nor could they be responsible for deciding whose needs were most urgent.
Only municipal government can do that.  And in Toronto, the municipal leaders were instead jockeying around behind the scenes, avoiding each other, minimizing the problems and fighting about who should speak to whom.  As the Toronto Sun says,
...demands by various councillors that Ford declare an emergency were politically motivated, lest Ford get any credit for being front and centre during the emergency.
On the other hand, Ford’s claim that declaring an emergency would cause people to panic was silly. One reason Ford didn’t want to declare an emergency was that he would lose his remaining mayoral powers to Kelly.
It mattered -- without leadership, the Toronto citizens could not get a straight story. Instead, they got wishful thinking.
Toronto Hydro should have been more honest with the public from the start about the lengthy timelines it was facing for getting everyone who lost power back on the grid....
Stating at the outset that it might be more than a week until all power was restored would have given people the opportunity to make realistic plans from the start for staying or leaving their homes.
Without leadership, problems were minimized and people couldn't get the information they needed:
Berardinetti said the city hadn’t set up enough warming centres in hard-hit Scarborough, and urged people who had a generator to spare to contact her office so that it could be borrowed for another local home.
Gary Crawford, Southwest Scarborough’s other councillor, said Friday at least 12 streets in his ward still had significant outages, and many there felt forgotten.
“There’s a real sense of abandonment, that people just don’t care - which I don’t think is the case,” he said.
Some residents, isolated and elderly, stayed because they worried leaving would open their homes to thefts, said Crawford, while others hadn’t yet seen a Hydro truck nearby and just wanted information.
Paul Ainslie, a councillor for Scarborough East, counted three areas in his ward that were still dark.
“We’re not talking house by house, we’re talking streets,” he said, adding his distaste for an appearance Mayor Rob Ford had made at a local school.
The school had power and the mayor, Ainslie said, had for a “photo op” pulled a crew from Hydro Windsor away from their work reconnecting homes around it.
The only warming centre in his ward was at Toronto police’s 43 Division station, and its community room wasn’t big enough to sleep in, he said.
“I had a lot of low-income and elderly people who were freezing in their homes” because they couldn’t get to a centre where they could stay overnight, charged Ainslie.
And apparently nobody at City Hall even got around to ordering door-to-door checks -- it took the Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to get these underway.

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